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In Gen. 3:5 is יֹדְעֵ֖י ט֥וֹב וָרָֽע (knowing good and evil) experiential knowledge rather than intellectual knowledge? Up to that time Adam and Eve only knew obedience. There was only one tree they could not eat from; only one thing they could do to disobey. Was it the experience of disobeying, rather than the physical chemistry of the fruit, that gave knowing good and evil? This would mean guilt made them feel naked rather than intellect. This is within what יֹדְעֵ֖י can mean.

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There is a subtlety in the choice of words in the texts that gets blurred:

  • יָדַע (yada) = verb "to know" as per Gen 3:5, 7, 22, (also in 4:1, 9, 17, 25, etc)
  • דַּעַת (da'ath) = noun "knowledge" as per, Gen 2:9, 17, Ex 31:3, etc.

Both are applied to the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil either direct or indirectly. The noun is used in the title of the tree (Gen 2:9, 17) while the act of know as God does after sampling the fruit is used of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:5, 7, 22).

Now, the fact that in Gen 2 God had specifically warned Adam and Eve about the tree, but it was only in Gen 3 that they acquired experimental knowledge of the effects of the tree, (just as Adam did his wife in Gen 4:1) is significant.

Note especially that in Gen 3:5, we have

For God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

Again in Gen 3:7 -

And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed together fig leaves and made coverings for themselves.

Then there is the final statement in Gen 3:22 -

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil ...

In all the above it is the same verb, יָדַע (yada) that is highlighted. Thus, the serpent was correct that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit they would become like God knowing good and evil. [I will resist the temptation explore that final verse which is also pregnant with meaning about what God and His companions had previously witnessed concerning evil.]

Thus, it appears that in Gen 2 & 3, the noun form, "knowledge" appears to denote intellectual knowledge, but the verb "to know" appears to denote an experiential understanding. However, I am not sure that such a distinction is maintained throughout the rest of the OT, but is maintained in the rest of the Torah (but that is another question).

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It would be crudely materialistic to even consider that it could be "the physical chemistry of the fruit, that gave know[ledge of] good and evil".

It is quite clear that the whole point is obedience to that one prohibition, and then, in consequence of the Serpent's temptation, the breach of the prohibition.

In eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, Adam and Eve experienced, all in one go, freedom of choice and guilt for their disobedience.

We can also legitimately say that, in consequence of this experience, they acquired "intellectual knowledge" of the difference between "good and evil".

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Let’s not over complicate this ‘garden scene’. Before Adam ‘ate’ - did he have ‘knowledge’ of ‘good and evil’? He must of - else how would he understand that ‘eating’ from this ‘tree’ was wrong?

The [english] translation ‘evil’ from the Hebrew ‘ra’ [רַע]. But the Hebrew concept of ‘ra’ does not directly equate to our [western] understanding of ‘evil’. So, arguably, you could also translate the dual concepts as ‘right and wrong’.

Therefore prior to ‘eating’, Adam had no knowledge of ‘right and wrong’ - but, as we said, he did. What was the ‘source’ of this knowledge? God! God told him what was ‘right and wrong’. But - after Adam ‘ate’, then what was his source for this knowledge? Himself!

So the issue over the ‘tree’ was about the ‘source’ - the source of ‘right and wrong’. Not over ‘knowing right and wrong’, God did not want Adam to be the source.

Why do you need to know about ‘right and wrong’ - so you can be ‘good’ - based on your ‘own’ ‘doing’. Now let’s start putting this together coherently.

‘Right and wrong’, biblically, relates to righteousness. ‘Doing’ the ‘right’ thing requires you to know what ‘is’ right, and what is not right. And God never wanted ‘man’ to be the source for ‘righteousness’ - he wanted to be the ‘source’ - because only He is righteous. But when Adam ‘ate’, Adam became the ‘source’

Now let’s add the concepts of ‘yada’ [יָדַע], ‘to know’ - a ‘deep’ inner ‘knowing’ - to perceive and see. This is identifying the ‘source’ of the knowledge, were ‘man’ (Adam) ‘perceived’, or ‘determined’ ‘good and evil’. From his ‘spirit’ which prior to ‘eating’ was ‘joined’ (connected) to God. But - after ‘eating’ - he died. He died spiritually. His spirit was separated from God, from the ‘source’ of righteousness. He himself now became the source of the knowledge needed for righteousness - and ‘he’ decided that being ‘naked’ was not ‘right’.

But worse, he was now responsible for his own righteousness - and that is impossible. Only God can be . But Adam was now ‘like’ a god - responsible for righteousness. Man became unrighteous. And that was a problem - a problem only God could resolve!

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In Gen. 3:5 is [knowing good and evil] experiential knowledge rather than intellectual knowledge?

Suppose we break down the identity of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil just a bit. As I have written elsewhere, the first part of the clause is merely the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good.”

However, we should understand the first couple already possessed that knowledge, whether we identify it as "experiential," "intellectual," or otherwise. If someone (Adam) is naming all the animals in Creation, that presupposes the couple possessed both forms of knowledge. It is not as though prior to eating of the Tree, they had no such understanding.

Perhaps we might safely characterize the abomination directly in the middle of the Garden as simply the Tree of the Knowledge of Evil? So, precisely what does that mean?

The first couple spent an indeterminate amount of time in the Garden without clothing. Are we to presume they had no awareness of their nakedness? The two were not blind, so what happened to profoundly alter their innocent perspective?

Perhaps the reason they initially had no concern about such things is that it was simply never an issue: they were somewhat the same as very young children in this sense. They likely shared a common spiritual consciousness in which they were at one with God, at one with each other, and at one with their surroundings. This suggests that before their disobedience, Adam and Eve possessed a superior supernatural awareness; they had no defining sense of self but were united both experientially, intellectually, and spiritually, in a state of harmony free from personal self-importance.

Immediately after they had eaten of the Tree, it seems this undifferentiated perfection was shattered; they at once became disassociated with one another into self-identities. Our original parents were no longer one with God, with each other, or with their environment. They became separate and distinct — spiritually and intellectually detached.

Their disobedience deprived them of their blessed, shared consciousness replacing it with selfish, personal identities. And, with an intense recognition of self, there is an awareness of what one does, of what can be done to oneself, and of what one can do to others.

There is a profound vulnerability associated with our individuality. It is the instant recognition that a person is alone in their thoughts about themselves and their surroundings. The “self” presents great restrictions because an intense responsibility arises with such a distinction of oneself: we are capable either of acting in accordance with God’s wishes, or of behaving contrary to His expectations and thus committing sinful and even malevolent acts.

Pride is an abomination. Through this individual identity, we entertain evil thoughts and intentions, theft, coveting, lust, cheating, envy, murder, strife, and so on (Mk. 7:21-23). All that defiles us as human beings originates from our sense of self – our Pride – a soul spiritually adrift from others. Here, I will (again) quote author and theologian, C.S. Lewis, who once wrote about this dilemma:

The natural life in each of us is something self-centered, something that wants to be petted and admired, to take advantage of other lives, to exploit the whole universe. And especially it wants to be left to itself: to keep well away from anything better or stronger or higher than it, anything that might make it feel small. It is afraid of the light and air of the spiritual world, just as people who have been brought up to be dirty are afraid of a bath. And in a sense, it is quite right. It knows that if the spiritual life gets hold of it, all its self-centeredness and self-will are going to be killed and it is ready to fight tooth and nail to avoid that. (Mere Christianity, “The Obstinate Toy Soldiers.”)

Indeed, the self is the very foundation upon which we become our own god, blinded by our own narcissistic ambitions. Everything else becomes incidental as a means of gratifying the insatiable ego. When we reflect on our very early years as children under the age of four or five, we had not yet formed any such defining sense of personhood. We were largely unaware of the world and of all that it represents, often oblivious to our surroundings: we might easily step directly in front of oncoming traffic. Generally speaking, we lived a quasi-heavenly existence, at relative peace with ourselves and everything else.

There seems to be a distinct parallel between the effects of consuming the forbidden fruit (disobedience) and our own awareness, beginning around the age of four or five. Prior to that, we really have little recognition of our vulnerabilities. By five years or so, we too begin to understand the difference between right and wrong. We start to recognize that we have disobeyed our parents and are conscious of our guilt – just as if we too had partaken of the same deadly fruit. Once we become fully aware of ourselves as uniquely separate individuals, we have become thoroughly unrighteous beings (although children are not accountable at such an age).

It matters not whether the knowledge is "experiential" or "intellectual," both of which Adam and Eve possessed. They were cursed with the knowledge of the uniqueness of themselves relative to one another. The Tree of the Knowledge of Evil immediately instilled within them the pride associated with the same individuation that deprives us all of our blessed innocence.

Christ once related to His disciples the following thoughts: Matthew 18:1-4b: “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Christ has just proclaimed that humility, the absence of pride, is what exalts us. If that is true, then the opposite must also be true: Pride is that which demeans and diminishes us.

Personal identity is not a blessing; it is a curse. It is being consumed by an intimate recognition of the evils with which one is capable, in stark contrast to the harmony one experiences before this individuation occurs. This may be precisely what happened to Adam and Eve. Although they formerly possessed a conscious awareness, they did not possess a self-conscious distinctiveness, one overwhelmed by feelings of detachment and isolation.

Such knowledge, whether experiential or intellectual, is something we all share, that which instantly reveals our nakedness — along with all the ills that plague humanity.

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